New dawn for Zimbabwe?

Mugabe is one tyrant Israel - and the rest of the world - has no interest in sustaining.

Zimbabwe elections 224.8 (photo credit: AP )
Zimbabwe elections 224.8
(photo credit: AP )
Zimbabwe, the southern African country of 12 million citizens, stands on the brink of momentous change. Following Saturday's elections, Robert G. Mugabe, the country's only ruler since it achieved independence in 1980, seems finally to be losing his grip on power. We are now five days after the elections, and no official results have yet been announced in the presidential poll. The unprecedented delay could be a result of Mugabe's desperate efforts to negotiate a dignified exit from political life. Or he might be preparing for a run-off, required by law within 21 days if a winner fails to garner more than 50 percent of the vote. But many worry that Mugabe is using the delay to fix the results, which independent observers believe show a victory for the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai. On Wednesday, The New York Times reports, parts of the capital were littered with white leaflets: "Morgan Tsvangirai is our new president!! Freedom at last!" The leaflet said, "The thieves are working overtime to steal our votes," adding "Stay on the streets and get ready for JAMBANJA," the Shona word for violence. It wouldn't be the first time that incumbent Mugabe, running for a fifth term as president, has resorted to electoral fraud. He robbed Tsvangirai of a victory in the 2002 elections by rigging. But never before have Zimbabwe's elections been this hotly contested, and the chance they offer for Mugabe's political demise is to be welcomed. Mugabe, 84, who earned a reputation as a freedom fighter in the struggle against British colonialism, has in the last decade brought his once prosperous country to ruin. As head of the ruling the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, he has led the country not merely toward increasingly autocratic, one-party rule, but also toward economic collapse. Mugabe's land redistribution campaign, which began in 2000, caused an exodus of white farmers, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic goods. Foreign trade plummeted, and fuel shortages are now common. The IMF suspended its aid because of the government's failure to repay loans or take measures to stabilize the economy. In April 2005, the government's Operation Restore Order resulted in the destruction of the homes or businesses of 700,000 mostly poor supporters of the opposition, according to UN estimates. And last summer, Mugabe instituted price controls on all basic commodities, causing panic buying. Unemployment rates hover somewhere near 80 percent, and inflation has now reached 100,000 percent. In Jerusalem on Sunday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summed up the situation, calling Zimbabwe's president a "disgrace" to his people and to Africa. ACCORDING TO a report by a Zimbabwean opposition aide to the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian, Mugabe hired a Mossad team of computer experts to ensure his electoral victory this week. This is dubious and unsubstantiated. It is true that a private company owned by Kibbutz Beit Alfa, Beit-Alfa Technologies, sold riot control vehicles to Mugabe in 2002. Alon Liel, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and a former ambassador to Harare, rightly expressed revulsion that Israeli-made equipment would be used "to pursue the courageous proponents of democracy or the farmers trying to continue working their land." Since then, Israeli aide to Zimbabwe has been of a more pacific sort. Israel lent its expertise to help Zimbabwe develop an affordable drip irrigation system, called Netafim, designed to give small farms higher yields. But the fact remains that Mugabe's regime, quite apart from its abysmal abuses of its own people, has been no friend to Israel. It gave consistently strong support to the PLO, and its state-run newspaper, The Herald, regularly and intemperately condemns the Jewish state. In March 2003, Mugabe responded to critics comparing him to Adolf Hitler by saying, "This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold." This is one tyrant Israel - and the rest of the world - has no interest in sustaining.